UPDATE: Another high profile departure from Naughty Dog: Michael Knowland, lead character artist on The Last of Us, has parted ways with the studio.
There is one hell of a mystery brewing over at Sony first party studio Naughty Dog, and no one seems to be opening up to say what the nature of that mystery truly is. Naughty Dog is one of Sony’s most storied studios. Their pedigree is beyond dispute, having created notable franchises like Crash Bandicoot, Jak and Daxter, and the Uncharted series, not to mention what is arguably one of the best games of the past generation, The Last of Us. Yet within the last two months, the studio seems to be losing a lot of its high caliber personnel. A few hours ago, The Last of Us’ art director, Nate Wells, announced that he left the studio and is now the art director for Giant Sparrow, the indie developer of the artsy hit “The Unfinished Swan”. This is the third high profile departure from the studio in a matter of weeks, following Amy Hennig and Justin Richmond. Hennig has become renowned due to her work in the Uncharted series, serving as the creative director or co-director for all three PS3 entries in the series. Richmond was set to be the director of the fourth entry in that series. All three people served in high-ranking creative positions at the studio commonly touted as auteurs in the medium.
Hmmm….seem to be some threads here. Yes, I joined the wild, wacky, and ultimately brilliant folks at #GiantSparrow on April 3rd.
— Nate Wells (@PrettyLarceny) April 21, 2014
Now I am not a conspiracy theorist. I don’t want to draw parallels where none exist. Yet in the silence that is seemingly coming from these departures out of Naughty Dog and Sony Worldwide Studios, not to mention from the people themselves, it is hard not to let your imagination run wild with the small tidbits of information we have. At the time of Hennig’s departure, there were reports that her leaving was less amicable, and more a ‘forcing out’ situation with The Last of Us creative directors Neil Druckmann and Bruce Straley serving as the force-ees. What highlights a lot of the concern surrounding these departures is the fact that they have taken place so shortly after the announcement of the next Uncharted installment. Now it is currently unknown whether Nate Wells was working on the next Uncharted game, but once again it is hard not to find patterns in these moves, whether they exist or not.
Making matters worse is that all of this comes at a time when Sony is suffering layoffs throughout its gaming divisions as well as reporting significant annual losses (1.1 billion) as a company on the whole.
We here at Refined Geekery are huge fans of Naughty Dog so we hope all is well within the house of Nathan Drake. That said, we would also love for someone to just come clean and tell us what the hell is going on! Honestly, if things are even half as bad as the optics of the situation are, there is one hell of a tell-all book in the making.
Follow Tom on Twitter @thomaskagar